Historically, Rites of Passage ceremonies and rituals have taken place in many cultures all over the world. These rituals solidified a new identity helping individuals to function and fit into the community as responsible adults. The understanding of the cycles of change was passed down from the wise elders of the tribes, who reinforced these necessary role changes in our lives with ceremony and ritual. These rituals all had much symbolism affecting the initiates on both conscious and subconscious levels. There was a death of one role and a rebirth to begin another. Due to the symbolism and dramas of these ceremonies, and the way they were undertaken, they left an everlasting and indelible imprint on the psyche. They evoked a sense of awe and created a lasting and powerful image on the whole community. These milestones were never forgotten and most importantly, they were understood, accepted and supported by the community at large. These ceremonies greatly enhanced the initiate’s ability to move forward into their new role with pride and respect during these important transitions. This Ceremony also greatly affected the community or tribe by reminding them of there responsibility in responding to the initiate in a new way, in their new role as an important member of the community.
Rites of Passage, which are the soul’s evolution by incremental changes in consciousness, always involve the following 3 stages:
Separation from the existing limited awareness of all that is familiar and secure. Acknowledging the fear and resistance, we have no choice, but to separate and face the fear of the unknown. At this stage, the community has to see that the initiate is ready for the transition. This is where our western society has been lacking, therefore the final stages become problematic. Where this support is missing it can help if we are totally open to Great Spirit and the mystery that is unfolding.
2. Transition Rites or the Adventure:
This is a hazing period when we are in full flight of the adventure. This is where we face the fears head-on, as the grip of old consciousness fades, and in time merges with new revelations. This is a time when our faith is tested, a time when the community support was needed for wisdom and clarity. This is the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. This is a time to surrender to The Great Spirit and His mystery.
3. Rites of Incorporation – the Return:
The return of the same person, but forever changed. The deed has been achieved, the boon or gift gained and has led the initiates self-recognition and deep understanding of surrender. Celebration and community support enhances the individual’s experience to trust in the cycles of life.
Traditionally Rites of Passage ceremonies marked the turning points in life, such as those for the transition from child to adult, marriage rites, death rites etc.
Nowadays we have added a few more transitions because in present-day western society with its absence of rites of passage we still resist change. We need assistance in dealing with divorce, separation, empty nest syndrome, menopause, and retirement, and any major turning point or soul call. These latter rites have become problematic because the earlier rites have not paved the way for our psyches to accept the letting go processes, as they did in the traditional primitive cultures.
Rites of passage ceremonies offer assistance in helping us to move ahead, letting go of the pre- existing roles. Then we move smoothly, with wisdom and trust, into the natural cycles of life that everyone must experience. These ceremonies help us to embrace life and move into a new role with acceptance and gratitude, knowing that we are supported.
During these times of intense acceleration, many people are being called to take their place, change their paths, and for many, this is frightening.
Watch these two writes of passage and compare them to the ones in your culture. Think about the defining characteristics of each, and what effects those characteristics had on the adolescents becoming adults.
How does your culture mark adulthood?